When Conservative leader Andrew Scheer released his long-awaited climate plan last June, it was “so cloaked in mystery and choked with irony” that readers might not have noticed him walking back his previous commitment to a strategy that met Canada’s commitments under the 2015 Climate Agreement, respected Alberta economist Andrew Leach writes in an analysis for CBC News.
“Last April, he said without hesitation that, ‘of course’, his plan would allow Canada to meet its Paris commitments—commitments first made by the Harper government. Now, he’ll say only that his plan gives Canada the ‘best chance’ to meet those targets,” Leach writes.
“I suppose he can claim his plan has a chance to meet the targets because he hasn’t defined many of the measures he’s going to take very clearly. With that much wiggle room, there exists a theoretical chance he could do something stringent enough to meet Paris. I guess.”
But so far, the plan only “tells you what he won’t do: no carbon taxes, no clean fuel standards, and generally nothing that costs anyone anything. What the plan doesn’t tell you is how he plans to square all of this with Canada’s Paris targets, and/or prepare Canada for success in a world acting on climate change.”
Leach digs into the details of the Conservative plan—a taxed emissions cap for industrial facilities instead of a carbon price, greenhouse gas standards for major emitters, and an expectation that companies that exceed their caps will invest in research, development, and emission reduction technology.
“If any of this sounds ambitious and likely to make a real dent in emissions, you need only look as far as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s reaction to understand that it likely won’t,” Leach writes. “A federal plan to require emissions reductions in Alberta’s energy sector with mandated but unspecified investments in technology for those who don’t meet the highest standards of green technology? Such a statement made by Prime Minister Trudeau would have Jason Kenney foaming with outrage and talking about how the measures could force Alberta out of Confederation. Instead? Crickets.”
That’s because “Kenney is confident the plan would not be sufficiently stringent to disrupt the status quo in Alberta’s energy sector,” Leach says.
He adds that, while the Trudeau government’s climate plan applies direct carbon controls to fewer large emitters than Scheer is proposing, that’s because smaller emitters are covered by the carbon tax.
“Under Scheer’s plan, all but the largest 600 or so facilities in Canada would be exempted from carbon emissions reduction standards or pricing,” he writes. “Not content with that, Scheer’s plan has the audacity to claim that the biggest polluters got a special deal under Trudeau’s policy, as they only pay a carbon price on emissions above a facility-specific limit. Scheer’s plan has those deals too—it requires firms to invest a certain amount to offset emissions above a facility-specific limit. The real difference is that, with Scheer’s plan, nobody knows how big the special deals will be.”
The plan also presents a false dichotomy between green technology and taxes, when “the question is not whether technology will play a key role in reducing emissions, as it necessarily must, but how to accelerate development and deployment of these new technologies,” Leach contends. “Carbon pricing, whether in the form of taxes or so-called flexible regulations, will provide higher value to low-carbon innovations and encourage exactly the development and deployment that Scheer himself wishes to see occur.”
Meanwhile, “noticeably absent” from the strategy is “any acknowledgement that economists agree that a carbon price is the best means to encourage green technology deployment, because it ensures that a market exists for emissions reductions,” he adds. “As economists Jack Mintz and Nancy Olewiler wrote in their seminal paper on emissions pricing in Canada, ‘an environmental tax provides a continuous incentive to search for ways to minimize (emissions),” meaning that it’s “in the interests of the taxpayer to continue to search for better and cheaper technologies to reduce taxed emissions.”